The Best Foam Roller to Accelerate Your Recovery, according to Trainers
This trainer says foam rolling transformed his workout recovery. Here's the product he loves best—plus three tips on finding the right foam roller for your needs. (That feels better already...)
As a trainer and athlete who regularly does resistance training (and is currently training for a marathon), I know how muscle soreness can put a damper on workouts. Workout recovery—whether it’s stretching, massages, or some much-needed R&R—sometimes takes discipline for the fitness-forward among us, but it’s an essential practice to get the results you want. So when my aching legs felt like they couldn’t run another mile, I knew I needed to take a break and focus more attention on recovery.
That was when I discovered my new go-to fitness product for alleviating muscle soreness so I can get back on the trail: it’s the 321 STRONG 5-in-1 Foam Roller Set. I found that this foam roller set (plus its fun accessories) makes post-workout recovery so much easier and more enjoyable. The 321 STRONG set (available on Amazon for $39.87) is the best foam roller to take your fitness to the next level by stopping your activity, taking a breather, and loosening those tight areas when they need releasing the most.
What benefits can you expect from the high-quality foam roller that’s right for your needs? According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, foam rolling reduces muscle stiffness, increases range of motion, and optimizes recovery time. In addition, the researchers noted that foam rolling is even more effective “in combination with dynamic stretching and active warm-ups before training sessions.” (Here are the 10 Best Warm-Up Exercises to Do Before Your Workout.)
What’s the best type of foam roller?
Mike Matthews, CPT, a celebrity trainer and author of Muscle For Life, explains why a medium-firm, textured foam roller is an excellent option for most people. “Moderately dense rollers are firm but forgiving, meaning they’re hard enough to ease trigger points, but not so hard you wind up bruising yourself or causing trauma to the trigger point areas,” Matthews tells The Healthy. What else to look for in a good foam roller? “Rollers with knobs, ridges, and other textured surfaces allow you to apply different amounts and types of pressure on trigger points and make digging into smaller tight spots easier.”
While textured foam rollers are best for releasing tension in those hard-to-reach areas, smooth foam rollers may be a better option if you’re new to rolling. Antoine Hamelin, CPT, certified trainer and founder of First Step Fitness, advises, “As with any training method, you should progress from easy to hard. Smooth rollers may be better suited for beginners looking to include rolling in their cool-down routines.” On the other hand, he says, “Bumpy foam rollers might be more appropriate for advanced users” who don’t get as effective of a release from smooth rollers anymore.
How do I choose a foam roller?
When you’re shopping for a foam roller, Matthews advises considering the following: density, texture, size, and construction. “The denser a roller is, the less ‘give’ it has,” he says. “So if you’re new to foam rolling, sensitive to pain, or looking for something akin to a gentle rubdown rather than a deep tissue massage, a soft roller is a good option.”
On the other hand, if you’re an athlete, or you want your roller to penetrate deep into your muscles (and you don’t mind some discomfort), a firmer, textured roller is the way to go.
As for size, your best foam roller choice depends on your needs and how often you carry it with you. “Longer foam rollers are beneficial if you perform back muscle release by helping decompress the spine. They also provide a variety of mobility rolls,” explains Hamelin. “On the other hand, short rollers might come in handy when you try to roll smaller muscles, such as pecs, triceps, and calves.” A shorter roller can also be great if you travel often, or need to bring it with you to the office or gym.
Lastly, the foam roller material can make a difference. Matthews says, “There are many types of foam used to make rollers, but the two that I recommend you look out for are EPP and EVA. Both offer long-lasting durability at a reasonable price.”
Where to buy the best foam roller
The 321 STRONG 5-in-1 Foam Roller Set stands alone in your search for the best foam roller. The set includes a muscle roller stick, stretching strap, double lacrosse peanut, and a spiky plantar fasciitis ball to target muscles for deep tissue relief. (We can feel that already.) Also, the foam roller is hollow core with storage end caps, allowing you to keep the accessories inside for easy storage and portability.
Matthews gives his praise of the 321 STRONG set, saying, “I prefer this type of foam roller over a smooth one because the variations on the surface allow you to better target different muscle groups and trigger points (and the other tools in the set allow you to do even more!).”
No matter your fitness level, adding foam rolling to your fitness routine is a safe and effective way to enhance your recovery between workouts, improve flexibility, expand your range of motion, and reduce your risk of injury.
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- Mike Matthews, CPT: Celebrity Personal Trainer and Weight Lifting Expert, author of Muscle For Life, and host of the TOP Fitness Podcast.
- Antoine Hamelin, CPT: Certified Personal Trainer, CEO and founder of First Step Fitness, author of The Things I Wish You Knew About Weight Loss.
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies: "Effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery: A systematic review of the literature to guide practitioners on the use of foam rolling."